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May 2017

The Unexpected Pleasures of a More Than a Decade of Reading Harry Potter

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By Leo Babauta

Recently, I finished reading Book 7 of the Harry Potter series with my youngest daughter Noelle. We cried, laughed, gasped in shock, cried some more.

It was quite a journey, reading all seven books with her, and it took us four or five years.

Amazingly, it was my fourth time through the series. I read all 7 books with four of my kids, taking several years each time through.

I absolutely love the Harry Potter series, and have had the immense pleasure and honor of reading it to my kids, learning new things each time, finding new pleasures with each one, rediscovering details I’d forgotten, falling in love with the characters all over again each time.

Reading the series with four kids brought me some unexpected pleasures:

  1. I started reading it with my eldest daughter, Chloe, when she was in elementary school. Probably 17 years ago or so. It began a lifelong love affair with Harry Potter for Chloe — she eventually fell in love with the actor who played Harry in the movies, Daniel Radcliffe, though she might not want me to tell you that, and we saw him in a Broadway play in New York after she graduated high school. I was there at the beginning of that love affair with the series, and sharing that with her has always been something special for me.
  2. Chloe and I used to wait for each new book to come out, which was a delicious pleasure of anticipation. She was always so excited to read, but my time to read with her was limited —- she was only with me a few nights a week, I worked full time and was doing freelance writing, and I had a bunch of younger kids to help take care of. So she had to wait as we made agonizingly slow progress through the last couple of books, despite the nail-biting excitement of the plots.
  3. Reading with Chloe gave me the pleasure of discovering things about her, as we read together … she was able to grasp complex vocabulary at a young age, understand difficult plots, and seemed to pick up on subtle relationship dynamics in the book that I didn’t think she’d understand. She had a deep sense of empathy for the characters, and a tender heart that I saw as we read through emotional parts of the book. What a lovely thing, sharing that with her.
  4. We started when Chloe was in elementary school, but didn’t finish until she was 15 (we had to wait for the books to come out, and we took long to read them) … that meant that we would bond together reading in bed in a way that I might not have done with a teen-age daughter normally. By that age, they often start to grow apart from you, but reading with Chloe helped us stay close.
  5. I remember crying as I read some of the more emotional parts (like the deaths of some characters, who shall remain unnamed for the sake of avoiding spoilers), with all the kids, but Chloe was the first. My voice would crack with emotion, and at times tears would flow down my face as I read. Chloe cried with me. It was like losing family members.
  6. When I picked up the series again with my son Rain (who is now an adult in college), it was a completely different experience. It felt more like going on an adventure with him, and sharing in that adventure was so much fun. I’d already forgotten lots about the earlier books, and so it was also a process of rediscovery, which was a delight!
  7. As with Chloe, when I read the series with Rain, it became a shared experience, something we did together while he was a kid (into middle school) that we’ll always have. He’s an adult now, but those times reading with him were some of my favorite experiences with him.
  8. Rain remembers the two of us falling asleep together when we read the book sometimes. Sleep was actually a big theme for me as I read to all the kids … I’ve become infamous in their eyes for falling asleep while reading to them. It’s as if the books cast a stunning spell on me, perhaps.
  9. When I read with Seth, it was a new experience as well. He had such enthusiasm for the books, it was so much fun. He bought Harry Potter wands and would cast spells. He really liked using Avada Kedavra (the killing curse) on me, which I patiently explained (as a ghost, I guess) was patricide. He seemed unbothered by that, as he kept cursing me.
  10. Seth also liked to dress as Harry, robes and glasses and all. I loved being a part of his fantasy world, bringing it to life every time we read.
  11. When Seth and I finished the series, it was satisfying but also left a hole in our lives. We started reading Lord of the Rings, which is awesome but without the same emotional connection, I think. Noelle and I are looking for a series now … I think we’re going to read the Unwanteds.
  12. With Noelle, she brings an innocence to the reading experience that I really love. It’s a freshness, a wonder, an excitement. It reminds me of reading with Chloe. Each kid’s personality comes out in different ways in these shared experiences.
  13. As with the other kids, Noelle and I read the books in spurts. We’d get interrupted by travel or visitors or holidays, then pick it up again, letting the memories of what happened the last time we read flood back into our minds, as if we were looking at memories in the pensieve. When things got exciting, sometimes we’d read two or even three times a day, trying to read as much as possible. It was if the thread of the books were woven in strange and magical ways into our lives.

That’s what Harry Potter was for me, with all the kids: a magical thread woven into the last 15+ years of my life, weaving me and each child together in unexpected, joyful ways. There have been lots of other experiences weaving us together — being part of a large family, traveling together, riding bikes and playing in the park, playing boardgames and werewolf, cooking together and spending time with other loved ones. Harry Potter was like all of that, except with wands.

That part of my life is over now, which brings a bit of sadness in my heart. I hope to read the series with my grandkids one day. I will always cherish the magic experience I shared with my kids.

p.s. I didn’t read the series with my two other kids, Justin and Maia, because Eva wanted to read them with them, and it saddens me that I didn’t have that with them. But I have my own shared experiences with them, and love them just the same.

light-setup

Studio Lighting vs Natural Lighting

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Studio Lighting vs Natural Lighting: Which One Do I Use?

Photographers have varied preferences when it comes to natural lighting verses studio lighting. Photographers who use natural lighting love the airy and simple qualities of window light and outdoor light. Sometimes, the thought of working with tons of hi-tech gear and studio lighting setups can terrify the photographers who prefer to use natural lighting.

On the other hand, studio lighting users love that they can precisely control the direction and intensity of the studio lighting sources. Due to this, sometimes the studio lighting photographers view the natural lighting photographers as unskilled photographers. 

Each kind of lighting has its benefits and its draw backs. It is advisable for any good photographer to gain knowledge of both studio lighting and natural lighting photography.

 Pros of Natural Lighting

  • It is affordable. You don’t have to purchase electronics to produce light as it only uses the daylight.
  • You can capture either soft images or those taken with hard light. You can shoot the photo on a sunny day if you want bright light, or you want soft light you can take the photo on a cloudy day.
  • You can get soft light indoors. It helps if you place your subject near a window or open door so they are more clearly lit.
  • It is quick because there is nothing to set up. Just meter your subject, pose her and you are ready to go.

Here is an example of a Headshot using Natural Lighting:

Headshots Los Angeles - Zen Studios LA - Natural Lighting

 Cons of Natural Lighting

  • Natural lighting is limiting because you are dependent upon the light you find yourself in at a certain time. You have limited hours in the morning or afternoon for a great soft light, but it quickly fades. For a hard or harsh light, it is best to shoot when the sun is high in the sky around noon time.
  • Bad weather can prevent outdoor shoots in natural lighting.
  • Lenses to capture the natural lighting may be expensive because you need a wider aperture to capture lower-light images. Cameras and lenses with wide apertures are not cheap. 

 Pros of Studio Lighting

  • Studio lighting is available 24/7.
  • Studio lighting is not limited as long as there is power.
  • Studio lighting distributes the light evenly, and you can change the direction and intensity of the light as you wish.
  • You have many options for changing the way the light looks by using different modifiers. You can add a diffuser if you want soft light. You can remove the diffuser or soft box to get a more direct harsh light. You can also change your soft box to control how much light hits your subject. You get a new look with every shift in material, size or shape of your diffuser.
  • This lighting gives you added credibility with clients. The fancy lighting setup always impresses people as they assume that you know what you are doing if you own all these fancy tools.
  • The control of the light of the studio lighting is in your hands, unlike the natural lighting. You control the direction, shape, and intensity of the light.

Here is an example of a Headshot using Studio Lighting:

Headshots Los Angeles - Zen Studios LA - Studio Lighting

Cons of Studio Lighting

  • Studio lighting is more expensive than using natural lighting. Lights, Powerful packs, diffusers and more modifiers require a lot of money.

You really need to take classes or find someone how to teach you to use the lighting properly.

It is much more complicated and technical than Natural lighting.

If you have an outdoor event, you need a generator or battery packs, which is expensive.

  • There must be electricity/power. Unlike the natural lighting where light is naturally given, studio lighting depends on power. The number of lights you have and the outlets in your location. You may also require power strip.
  • They are not reliable. It is hard to rely on electronic gadgets as they can fail. The studio lighting can stop working. The lights can also fall and break. Keeping this in mind, you require to have a backup light plan.

Conclusion 

In my opinion, the type of light a photographer use should depend on his/her preference. None of these types is better than the other. It is evident that both the natural lighting and studio lighting photography have many advantages and disadvantages. This means that people can enjoy learning either of them. It will depend on the work at hand. Each photography used is capable of great results. 

 

A Guide to Developing the Self-Discipline Habit

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By Leo Babauta

One of the most important life skills to develop, for those just starting out in life (and everyone else!), is the skill of self-discipline.

It’s like a superpower: when I developed some self-discipline, I started exercising and eating healthier and meditating and writing more, I quit smoking and ran marathons, I started a blog and wrote books, I read more and work earlier, I decluttered and transformed my finances. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve learned a lot.

But if you don’t develop self-discipline, it causes problems: health problems, distraction, procrastination, financial problems, clutter, things piling up and overwhelming you, and much more.

So it’s such an important skill to develop, but most people don’t know where to start. This guide is aimed at helping you get started.

I’m writing it for my kids, and for anyone else who would like to develop a superpower.

Finding Motivation

The first question is, how do you even get motivated to start? Most of us don’t want to think about our lack of discipline, let alone take a bunch of actions.

For me, the motivation came from realizing that what I was doing wasn’t working. Ignoring the problems only made things worse. Trying to be disciplined but doing it half-assedly only resulted in me feeling bad about myself. Being wholly undisciplined was causing myself a bunch of pain.

Once you realize that you’re causing yourself pain … you might develop a whole-hearted intention to stop hurting yourself. You might say, “OK, that’s enough with making my life worse. Let’s try to make it less worse.”

With that in mind, you can tell yourself that you are going to:

  • Start taking small actions to make things better
  • Do the things that hurt you less
  • Push yourself into discomfort a little bit, so you can get better at this over time
  • Get good at self-discipline with some practice

Keep these things in mind as you practice, as you get the urge to not practice, and as you make mistakes and then want to give up.

There are other good motivations as well:

  1. Wanting to help others — if you get better at exercise or healthy eating, for example, you can help your aging parents who need to get better at these things. If you get better at not procrastinating on your life’s work, you can help more people with that meaningful work. More on this below, in the “Focus on Others” section.
  2. Appreciating life — we have a short time here on Earth, and the life we have is a gift. When we procrastinate and give in to endless distraction, and don’t make the most of our time, we are not fully appreciating the gift we have. Instead, we can appreciate it by being present, being grateful, and being purposeful about how we spend our time.

With these motivations — or whatever motivations move you the most — we can start to practice.

Small Actions

One of the most important things you can do to get better at self-discipline is to take small actions. It can seem overwhelming to tackle huge, intimidating projects … so don’t. Instead, tackle easy actions, things so small you can’t say no.

Have some taxes to do? Just do 5 minutes. Want to run? Just run for 10 minutes. Have a report to work on? Just do the first few paragraphs. Want to declutter? Just find 5 things to declutter.

You’ll get better at self-discipline if you focus on small tasks, and break bigger projects into small tasks. Read more.

Discomfort Training

One of the reasons we don’t have self-discipline is because we run from the hard, uncomfortable things. We would rather do the easy, comfortable, familiar things.

So instead of facing our hard, uncomfortable projects or finances, we run to distractions, videos, games. This running from discomfort is ruining our lives.

What you can tell yourself is that you’re done running. You are going to push into discomfort, a little at a time, and get good at being uncomfortable. This is another of your superpowers. When others run, you’re OK (even if it’s not always fun).

One small task at a time, push yourself into discomfort. See how it feels. See that it’s not the end of the world. See that you are awesome enough to handle discomfort, and that the results are well worth it.

Mindfulness with Urges

You’ll have the urge to quit doing something hard, or to put it off for now. Those urges don’t serve you well.

Instead, develop mindfulness around those urges, and see that you don’t have to follow them.

A good way to do that is to set a time for yourself where you can do nothing but X. For example, for the next 10 minutes, you can do nothing but write your book chapter (or exercise, meditate, etc.). When you have the urge to procrastinate or run to distractions, you’ll easily see it, because you’re either writing the book, or you’re not. When you have the urge, tell yourself you can’t follow it, you have to either write your book chapter or sit there and do nothing.

Raymond Chandler used that as his simple writing system: “Write or nothing. I find it works. Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else.”

The reason it works is that you are setting up a time where you do nothing else but that one specified task, and you can see your urges to run away. Use this to learn to be mindful of your urges, and see that you don’t have to follow them.

Interval Training

If you combine the above items into a system of bursts, or intervals, you can train yourself using interval training:

  1. Set your intention to practice self-discipline and not hurt yourself anymore.
  2. Set a task to focus on (writing, drawing, strength training, meditating, etc).
  3. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Five minutes is also fine if 10 is too long. Don’t go longer until you get good at 10 minutes, then increase to 12 and eventually 15. I don’t find I need to go beyond 15-20 minutes even when I’m kicking butt.
  4. Do nothing but sit there and watch your urges, or push into your discomfort by doing the task.
  5. When the timer goes off, give yourself a 5-minute break.
  6. Repeat.

You can train for several intervals, or potentially for an hour or two. Then take a longer break, and do another set of intervals after that.

This kind of interval training is fantastic, because it’s not that hard, you really train yourself in discomfort and watching urges, and you can get a lot done this way.

A Focus on Others

When you find yourself struggling, dig into deeper motivation: doing your work/exercise/meditation etc. not for yourself, but for others.

For example:

  • I’m writing this article to help my kids, and anyone else who might benefit.
  • I work out to be healthy, not only for myself but as an example for my kids and others who might benefit.
  • I meditate not only for my own peace and sanity, but so that I can help others find their own peace and sanity.
  • You might draw or write or play music to inspire others.

In each example, you might benefit … but you’re also doing it to benefit others. And this benefit to others is much more motivating than doing something just for yourself.

Try it … try doing a difficult task for someone else. Tell them you’re going to do it for them beforehand, then keep them in mind as you do it. See if you feel more motivated.

Victories in Success & Failure

A huge mistake that a lot of people make is that they mess up, and get discouraged by this. They feel bad about messing up. This causes them to give up and not want to think about developing self-discipline.

Here’s the thing: failure is actually a victory.

Failure means you tried. So it’s a victory from the start.

But it also means you learned something — you now know that what you tried didn’t quite work. Next time, you can try something a bit different. Add more accountability, try it at a different time, unplug your wireless router, get a workout partner, anything. Because of your failure, you have new information. You’ve learned, and that helps you get better.

Failure is a victory. Success is also a victory. No matter what your result, you can see it as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to get better.

Drop any ideas of being perfect at this, and just keep trying.

The next time you fail at whatever you’re trying, instead of letting it get you discouraged, see it as a victory. Then keep going, no matter what, because giving up is only going to hurt you some more.

Getting Support

You’re not in this alone. You have family, friends, online strangers who can help you. Form a support team by reaching out to the people around you, and asking for their help.

Lots of people skip this because they are embarrassed by their lack of discipline. They feel that the way they behave is shameful. That’s not true. Actually, we all act like this, but we’re just afraid to show that side to each other. But the truth is, if you show your “dark” side to people, they actually love you more, trust you more, relate to you more. So don’t be afraid to connect with others in a vulnerable way.

Find the courage to ask for help. Then let yourself be supported as you work on pushing yourself into discomfort and hurting yourself less.

If you need help from me, try my 44 Training Program – Turning Uncertainty & Discomfort into Mindful Openness.

You can do this.

Small Actions, Huge Impact

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By Leo Babauta

Most people get hung up because of a few reasons:

  1. A task or project is too intimidating/overwhelming, so they put it off.
  2. Sticking to new habits is hard, so they fail after a week or two.
  3. Life becomes overwhelming, because there’s so much to do, so many choices.

The problems with these common situations is that we take the big picture, the overwhelming nature of it all, and use it as a reason to not do anything.

Instead, I’ve found it useful to pick one tiny action. It can change everything.

Some examples:

  1. I have too much to do right now, I’m overwhelmed — so I do one tiny thing. I just start a task. I just move a project along in the smallest way. I just make a list. Something that takes a minute or two — I can do that!
  2. I’ve fallen off a habit I was trying to start, such as meditation or exercise … and it’s causing me to not want to even think about the habit. So I just do the smallest version of the habit — can I pause for a few moments and meditate right now? Can I do a few pushups? This gets the ball rolling, and now the habit doesn’t seem that difficult. I just keep starting again, in small ways.
  3. I’ve been putting off a project, and I feel pretty bad about it — so I just do one small thing with the project, and now I feel a lot better. All of a sudden, I can get the project moving with small movements, small victories.

Each of these examples is so simple, so tiny — and yet their impact is bigger than most people realize. The action is small, but the impact is huge. The victory might seem trifling, but it’s actually a profound shift.

What are you stalling on? What are you overwhelmed by? What can you take a tiny action on right now?

Get an infinitessimal victory now, and see what it changes for you.

The Magic of Being Held By the World

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By Leo Babauta

Right now, as you read this article, you are being held up by an invisible, magic web.

Consider the following, with gratitude in your heart:

You are reading an article written for you by me, sent across the Internet thanks to the work of thousands and thousands of engineers and power workers and workers in computer factories, using a computer device produced by thousands of people around the world.

You are alive because you ate food and drink produced and delivered and served by thousands of people. You have shelter built by thousands of people (when you consider the manufacturing process), powered by a power system where thousands of people work every day, with water coming to you produced by thousands of people, cable (or Internet) entertainment streamed to you that was produced by millions of people. Your furniture, clothes, appliances, car, roads, work buildings, city were all built by millions of people.

When you were born, you were incapable of living without the support of your family, who fed, clothed, sheltered you, changed your diapers, kept you alive every single day. They were supported by many others, and then you were educated by many more. You were raised by a village, no matter what your childhood was like.

Your entire existence has been supported by millions of people, for your whole life, including right now.

And it’s not just your physical existence: your thoughts have been influenced by writers, pundits, TV shows, films, music, educators, friends and family, the work you do with others, politicians and government, philosophers and religious figures, the environment you live in. What you think and who you are is not something you just invented, it has been created by everyone and everything around you.

You have been co-created by every other human being alive, by the entire world. And your actions have co-created those around you as well.

You are held up by an invisible, magic web of human lives and thought, of food and shelter and electricity and devices, of human creation and nature and the cosmos around you.

We co-create each other, every moment. And we take it all for granted.

The only reasonable response to this realization is gratitude. Applause. Joy.

We are all connected, and our actions matter. How can you co-create the world around you today? What loving action can you take right now, to care for others around you, to make their lives better? What can you do to appreciate and show gratitude for those who have supported you?

Fill your heart with love for those who have created you, and fill their lives with your love so you can create something amazing for them.

How We’re Harmed by Our Dissatisfaction with Ourselves

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By Leo Babauta

Over the last five years or so, as I’ve worked with thousands of people on changing their habits, I’ve come to a realization: dissatisfaction with ourselves is a pretty universal phenomenon.

We are unhappy with who we are, sometimes in small ways but often in very fundamental ways.

We doubt ourselves, feel inadequate, dislike our looks, criticize our failing harshly, feel uncertain about whether we’re worthy of praise or love.

The result is anxiety, procrastination, fear, and the inability to change our habits. I’ve seen so many people who are unable to stick to an exercise program or healthy diet changes because they don’t believe in themselves. At the heart of their failure to make positive changes is a deep feeling of unworthiness and inadequacy.

Every time we fail, we are harsh with ourselves, and we see it as just more evidence that we suck. Every time things are less-than-ideal, we blame ourselves (or, if we don’t want to be blamed, we blame other people).

What if, instead of beating ourselves up (or blaming others), we just accepted what happened and then took appropriate action? What if we took this as an opportunity to see our humanness, to love ourselves, to see ourselves as innately good?

This dissatisfaction with ourselves doesn’t just hurt our health habits … it hurts our productivity and ability to focus on meaningful work. We doubt whether we’re up to facing this task filled with discomfort and uncertainty, so we look for relief from all of it instead of just trusting that we’re up to the task. We procrastinate, seek distraction, try to run from the uncertainty.

Our relationships are also harmed by this dissatisfaction with ourselves — when we don’t believe in ourselves, we are insecure in our relationships. That can result in jealousy, anger, fear of losing someone, and treating the other person with distrust. That’s not a good recipe for a good relationship, and if the relationship becomes shaky, we often either blame the other person or see it as more evidence that we suck.

Our happiness is marred by this dissatisfaction with ourselves— if we don’t like ourselves, don’t trust ourselves, don’t see ourselves as worthy of love … then how can we truly be happy in each moment? Underlying each moment is a dissatisfaction, a lack of contentedness, a wish that things would be different.

These are just a handful of ways that dissatisfaction with ourselves is harming us. This problem actually affects every area of our lives, from jobs to finances to parenting and more.

The Way Out: Loving Ourselves

Instead of harming ourselves with this self-doubt, this constant feeling of inadequacy … what if we loved ourselves instead?

What if we trusted ourselves, believed in our basic worthiness, believed that we would be OK even if things didn’t work out as planned, believed that we are loving, kind, and innately good human beings?

That would change everything: we’d be more trusting in relationships, we’d procrastinate less because we knew we could handle uncertainty and discomfort, we’d become healthier because we would see healthy food and exercise as just two more ways to love ourselves. We’d seek ways to love others, to serve the world with meaningful work, to enjoy the basic goodness of every moment. We’d be happier, and in the times when we’re not happy, we’d still be able to find contentment in the middle of difficulty.

Of course, that’s much easier said than done. We have so many years of experience in disliking ourselves, in being harsh with ourselves, that loving ourselves can seem impossible. It’s not. You can do this.

It starts with the simple intention to love yourself, to see yourself as adequate and worthy of love, to wish for your own happiness and the relief from pain and stress.

Once you have this intention, you can practice a daily session of wishing for your own happiness, wishing for an end to your pain. A daily session of gratitude for the good things about yourself.

You can start to see the basic goodness in everything you do, even if it’s less than perfect (as all humans are). You can see the good hearted nature in every one of your actions, even the ones that are harmful. You can start to see the good-hearted nature in what everyone else does as well.

This is the practice, and it takes lots of practice. But loving yourself might just be the most important project you’ve ever undertaken, because it will change your world.

My New Course: How to Love Yourself

I’m happy to offer a new course, called “How to Love Yourself,” as part of my Sea Change Program.

I invite you to join us in this 4-week course, by joining Sea Change today.

Sea Change is my monthly membership program for changing habits, learning mindfulness and changing your life. Each month, we focus on something different, and this month it’s procrastination.

What you’ll get with this course:

  1. Two video lessons per week
  2. A challenge to do a short compassion session six days a week for the whole month
  3. A weekly check-in for the challenge so you stay accountable
  4. A live video webinar where you can ask me questions

I encourage you to join me and have your efforts to change your old patterns be supported by me and more than a thousand other Sea Change members.

Join Sea Change today and start the course.